We are made to image the glory of God’s own self-emptying love within the spiritual family called the local church, and as a church family to radiate the love of Jesus Christ outward into the community, touching neighbors at their points of need whatever their church background, and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, reclaiming their lives for the glory of God.
The upward call of God is for our Church family to focus on Christ and come to reflect the glory of God’s self-emptying love. The outward call of God is for our Church family to look to the needs of our neighbors and reclaim their lives for the glory of God.
Camelback Bible Church has been a witness to Jesus Christ in our corner of the world and beyond for the last five decades. Our history begins with a Church plant by Bethany Bible Church and an official incorporation in the State of Arizona on July 8, 1965. Our congregation began meeting in the facilities of Phoenix Country Day School, just across the street from 10 acres of empty land at 3900 E. Stanford Drive. The building we now know as Fellowship Hall was built a few years later – with a lot of dynamite to blast a basement in the rocky soil! – to serve as our Church Sanctuary. In this new home, our body saw many new lives brought to follow Christ as Lord, many new believers baptized, and generations of couples married, children raised and grown up, and friendships formed. Missionaries were sent from within our body to reach the four corners of the earth. Saints departed from our family to be present with the Lord. We endeavored not to cease drawing in, building up, and sending out.
In 1987, a new Sanctuary was built on the West side of campus, where we now meet on Sunday mornings for worship. The walls of that building over the last twenty-five years have also seen many people being brought toward spiritual completeness in Christ, minds renewed, families strengthened in the Lord, and hearts lifted to praise God in song. We sought to be God-glorifying, cross-centered, life-transforming, serving in our world as Christ served in his.
The years from 2002 – 2012 have been a time in which God has stirred our hearts to bring the riches of Christ to our world in new and bolder ways. He led us to plant two new and thriving churches: Roosevelt Community Church was planted in downtown Phoenix, and Way of Grace Church was planted in Buckeye. Our congregation also began holding two services with distinct modes of worship music, a contemporary service and a classical service.
Most recently, our church family has been pushed by the Holy Spirit to reach out to our community with the life of Christ. Reaching out in new ways has only increased our appetite for deeper and more sustained inroads into our community.
There are four areas where we see our community ailing, and where we believe we can help — not by promoting ourselves, but by prescribing them the only antidote: Jesus Christ.
The Family. The condition of the families in our community is deeply discouraging. Marriages are frequently troubled, unfulfilling, and mired in strife; others are falling apart entirely. Parents lack confidence raising their children. Even the best memories of family are too often mixed with bitterness and resentment, as parents look to their children as a way of fulfilling their own goals, and children look to their parents the same way in return. Family – created by God as the beginning and end of society – is reeling under a disorienting burden of selfishness.
The Workplace. Economically, we think of ourselves as oppressed. We are the over-leveraged, the under-employed, the over-stressed, and the under-paid. Everyone is murmuring about ‘the new normal’. Unemployment is no longer a temporary stint between jobs, but a seemingly hopeless rut that can last for years. Money looms as a barometer of self-understanding. Americans think: my workplace’s reason for being is money, and my reason for being is the money I make at work. My identity is my net worth, and as net worth has crumbled in the last few years, so has my identity. These are the terms we understand ourselves in, so far removed from the terms that God understands us in.
The Mind. The life of the mind has suffered a wholesale depreciation in the last two decades: we read now about “the death of the humanities.” Feelings, urges, personal opinions, emotions, desires – these are the only sorts of “reason” that propel contemporary humanity forward. Our community is kept informed by sensational news reporting, made passive through the triumph of images over text, educated in the absence of serious reading, and struggles to say much of substance through cheapened and coarse language. Good thinking produces good behavior, and good ideas make for good policy. The reverse, as we are now seeing, is equally true. Meanwhile, those who still do employ their minds seem unable to find goodness in God, truth in the scriptures, or meaning in creation.
The Arts. The arts in our community are increasingly unsure what they are about. Music, paintings, dance, cinema, and literature often seem to vacillate between the celebration of empty subjectivism, and the acceptance of lostness and despair. Humanity is just so many lumps of flesh, and the heart’s only chance to transcend the ordinary is to embrace its own illusions. It is hard to see humanity as an image bearing the glory of God, or the flesh as that which Christ became. We wonder if it is even possible to feel lifted or exalted by anything anymore, without having to sacrifice one’s honesty.
What follows is only a rough sketch and an inspiration about how we might respond in each of these four ways. What actually happens will depend on the leaders God raises up within our body who feel called to act in each of these areas over the next few years.
We desire to see our marriages reflect the self-emptying love which binds together the three persons in the Holy Trinity, and for the relationships between husbands and wives to be living images of the love of Christ for the Church. We desire to be parents who communicate the love of our Father to our children, and children who respect and honor our parents. We desire to look out for the interests of our brothers and sisters as if they were our own, and to sacrifice our own lives for our friends. It is in relationships with one another that our faith is lived out.
Our body has what is increasingly a rare situation – a Church congregation distributed across all ages and stages of life, from the oldest to the youngest. Some people might worry that this mixture of people can’t help but lead to friction, as we inevitably disagree about our musical tastes, our interests, our fashions, our politics, and our pet peeves. We should remember that this mixture is a tremendous privilege that really enables us to remember our unity is in Christ. Those who are younger are privileged to have the wisdom of those who are older, and those who are older are privileged to have the inspiration of those who are younger. Our congregation is single and married and divorced and widowed, of many different economic and professional backgrounds, full both of those who grew up around the corner and of those who have come to our city from far away. We want to be a family of families who look upward to Christ for our unity, beyond anything we have in common.
We can encourage our neighbors with the relational healing available in the self-giving love of Christ. We must think and pray creatively about how to reach out to families of our community with the transforming reality of Christ at the center of our homes. Who among us will reach out to singles and include them in our life together as a Church family? Who will help renew marriages by pointing husbands and wives to Christ? Who will disciple and encourage overwhelmed parents in our neighborhood? Who will teach and guide our children to know
We desire for all of our work to be directed upward, including the work we do during the rest of the week. Over the years, our Church has become an oasis for many people who recognize the dryness and emptiness in the culture of self-centeredness that surrounds professional success in the world’s eyes. Instead, we take to heart the scriptural admonition to work with enthusiasm, as though working for the Lord himself rather than for men or women. No matter what our calling during the week, we want to display the self-emptying love of Christ in it, and the spirit of lightness and freedom which comes through that self-emptying. Because our work is for the Lord, and not for other people, we have nothing to fear from people and no reason to be anxious in our workplaces. We want to look upward to the humility and servant-attitude of Christ Jesus for our model, even when workplace culture tests us.
We must think radically and creatively about the economy, about what it means to excel professionally for Christ, and about how to bring Christ into our places of employment. Then, we must pray about how to reach out to our neighbors with this life- transforming message. How can we build connections between business people, professionals, and the local Church? How can we astonish our workplaces with the attitude of Jesus? How can we help change the way our neighbors understand themselves when they are surrounded by messages that they are valued in economic terms?
Our Church family has never taken a low view of the intellect. We encourage one another to study patiently, read diligently, and seek out wise teaching. We do not wish to abandon the rich theological heritage left to us to chase after faddish pretensions or emotional manipulation. Our minds are given us by God to contemplate him and his creation, and the knowledge of his self-emptying love can transform the way that we think.
That doesn’t mean our faith is just “head knowledge”. Rather, we want to be transformed in our way of living by the renewing of our minds. The world encourages us to think in terms of necessity: what is necessary to protect our own well-being? How can we trust until our own need for certainty is satisfied? The truth becomes what other people will let us get away with saying, and the good becomes the minimum needed to avoid any pain.
When we turn to meditate instead on the overflowing grace of God and the freedom that gives us, everything takes on a new light: our pursuit of the truth, our ethical values, our reasons for believing, our outlook on life and history and society.
We can encourage others to see the precious reality of being transformed by the renewing of our minds according to the image of God. Especially among our young adults: teaching them how to be leaders in a secular age, grounding them both in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in modern scientific discoveries, equipping them to bring the former powerfully to bear on the latter. And reaching into local high schools, where only half of enrollees graduate – mentoring minds, motivating minds, maturing minds.
We love the mind, and, ultimately, we want to bless our neighbors with the mind of Christ. So, we need to pray. How can we communicate with our neighbors when we can no longer assume they have even a cultural knowledge of the Bible? How can we engage those who have questions or doubts, or are even hostile? How can we provide answers to difficult issues that go beyond knee-jerk responses? How can we draw into spiritual depth those who are exhausted by shallowness?
We desire to turn upward through the arts. A myriad host of people in our congregation work together every week to insure that our worship on Sunday mornings fits the majesty and glory of God. Our body is blessed with many gifted musicians, and there are several other artistic realms where talents have been distributed amongst those in our body and wait to be brought to light even more often. We are not a Church that takes a low view of creativity.
Creation takes work, sacrifice, dedication, and a belief in the worthiness of the audience one creates for – and so, the arts at their best are acts of self-emptying love and worship of God. Through the production of creativity and beauty human eyes and ears and hearts can come to see the beauty and creativity of the Creator of all things. Yet, this can only happen when we cease to look for human applause and appreciation. When we look to the crowd and the critics, we turn creativity into a means of glorifying ourselves. When we look instead upward to the Glory of God, that glory radiates outward through what we create in ways we may not even be conscious of.
We love the supernatural power of artistic expression. With our full being anchored in Christ and abandoning ourselves, we expect his glory to be present in our creativity in a way that is not apparent in the concert hall or on the rock stage. It is precisely this supernatural blessing that our community needs – the unearthly joy of extolling Christ through artistic expression.
We must pray about how we can promote the renewal of the arts in our community, not just in music but in drama, in painting, in sculpting, in dance, in literature, in video, in design, in photography. Who with these talents or interests will step forward to lead? How can we share this creativity with the community around us? How can our church build bridges with those who are often the most perceptive critics of churches?
Our church is not meant to stay a small flicker of light in a dark world. We can become very protective of our safe oasis in the desert, and seek to guard our peaceful paradise against intruders. When we do that, we forget that the purpose of the church in God’s plan for the world is to be a fountain that flows outward to water the earth for the renewal of all things. It is time for the glory of God which is being implanted in our hearts to shine outward into the world around us, and to become – by grace – a beacon of God’s glory.